Environmental sustainability is nothing new: In fact, in commercial and home interior design it’s been gaining momentum for decades. Since the 1980s architect William McDonough has been pioneering environmentally sustainable practices in the design of products and places. Well before co-authoring the thought-provoking 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, back in 1987 McDonough famously said: “I was tired of working hard to be less bad. I wanted to be involved in making buildings, even products, with completely positive intentions.”

But how far has the green wave come? In commercial interior design, codes and regulations guarantee environmentally sustainable building practices. However, regarding home interiors, it’s up to residential designers to convince clients that going green is best for them—and the planet. But if the ASID 2022 Trends Outlook Report from the American Society of Interior Designers is any indication, today’s savvy clients are as concerned with environmental sustainability as their interior designers, and the two are adeptly collaborating on green home interiors to create a better tomorrow.

McDonough quote: "I was tired of working hard to be less bad. I wanted to be involved in making buildings, even products, with completely positive intentions."

Eco-Conscious Clients

Living room with deep blue walls and colorful accents
Rye, NY Home Design by Kati Curtis Design

According to the ASID 2022 Trends Outlook Report , more than 50 percent of consumers are willing to change their purchasing behavior to reduce negative environmental impact, with 44 percent saying they’d drastically change their lifestyles to live in a more sustainable way. But how can eco-conscious designers convince a less receptive audience that green design solutions are best for their home interiors?

Appealing to their emotions will help. Studio Designer user Kati Curtis of her namesake New York design firm says that clients of hers will choose toxin-free products for their home interiors out of concern for their families and pets; even if at first they’re reluctant, she’s able to convince them based on this premise.

Homeowners are looking for both sustainability and wellness, per the ASID Trends Outlook Report, which indicates: “Clients are gravitating toward simpler, cleaner, easier-to-maintain designs [in home interiors]….” Thus, home interior designers should offer solutions to enhance wellness, healthy living, and sustainability in every area of residential interiors.

Earth-Friendly Specifications

McKean console table, storage cabinet, and media cabinet
McKean console table, McKean storage cabinet, and Mckean media cabinet all made from reclaimed wood.

Brands—from major manufacturers to small-scale makers—are employing more environmentally sustainable practices. For example, furniture retailer Room & Board makes more than 90 percent of its products in America and as such has been able to reduce unnecessary waste and decrease the distance materials travel. Room & Board also has partnered with the USDA Forest Service on an initiative known as the Urban Wood Project,  which reclaims wood from downed urban trees and old buildings set to be demolished and repurposes it into furniture. By specifying product from manufacturers that are attempting to redress environmental ills, interior designers can help further this movement.

Selecting products that have attained accreditation from reputable organizations is also a good guideline. Greenguard-certified products have been tested and scientifically proven to have low-chemical emissions, while wood furniture accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) comes from responsibly managed forests. And Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) set standards for responsibly harvesting and manufacturing organic textiles.

Built To Last

Consider the lifespan of home interior products. Buying vintage, antique, or refurbished pieces rather than new is supremely environmentally conscious because you’re not creating more product. What’s more, you’re proactively not creating waste. Instead, you’re giving a second life to well-built pieces while interjecting home interiors with a bit of design history. Designers should ask clients about family heirlooms or antiques that might be in an attic or garage and give them a new place to shine within the home interior design scheme.

Maximizing Renewable Resources

Bright and spacious room with a chaise longue and green potted plants
Amorim Cork Floor by Surface Resources

Cutting down trees to make furniture and furnishings is not sustainable. There’s a better way: Think renewable resources. Hemp is a quite sustainable fiber because of its strength, durability, low-energy requirements, and biodegradability. Rapidly renewable jute is a great insulator as well as cost-effective. Fast-growing, naturally renewable bamboo is also favored because it requires less fertilizer and pesticides to grow. And cork is extricated without damaging trees, is PVC-free, and has four times less carbon emission than standard hardwood floor.

Since flooring occupies so much space in a home interior, implementing climate-positive flooring demonstrates a strong environmental commitment, says Heidi Steele, founder of Surface Resources, a firm that provides designers with environmentally responsible solutions. Steele recommends the remarkably carbon-negative Amorim Wise Cork flooring, which is 100 percent organic and features a striking aesthetic akin to hardwood.

Making Educated Decisions About Carpet

Living room with the carpet
This new carpet collection from FLOR is carbon negative with ECONYL® yarn and their tufting process.

What’s an interior designer to do when a client is set on carpet over more eco-friendly solutions for their home interiors? The problem with carpet is that it’s long-lasting so it “uglies out” before it wears out. That’s how an estimated 89 percent of carpet (some 4 billion pounds) ends up in landfills each year, according to the EPA. Less than 5 percent of carpet is recycled. And only 20 percent of that is closed-loop recycled (turned back into carpet); so that means merely 1 percent of carpet is recycled back into carpet each year.

When attempting to specify carpet that’s “less bad,” look to products made from natural, renewable, biodegradable fibers—like organic wool, cotton, sisal, and jute. EarthWeave and Nature’s Carpet are two companies known for making 100-percent wool carpets. Or opt for carpet made from pre- and post-consumer plastics like polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles or industrial scraps.

A true trailblazer in sustainable design, FLOR makes carpet tiles from reclaimed and recycled materials, manufactures them via energy-efficient means, and employs a carbon-negative rug backing technology; plus, the tiles are recyclable—FLOR will take them back and recycle them when users are ready to discard them. Many carpet manufacturers offer takeback programs to reclaim and reuse carpet, including Interface (FLOR’s parent company), Mohawk, and Shaw. Popular carpet companies are also evolving methods to responsibly make product. For example, according to Shaw’s 2021 sustainability report, almost 90 percent of the products Shaw manufactures are Cradle to Cradle Certified, meaning they pass the standard for being safe and made via environmentally and socially responsible methods.

Breathing Easier

Another critical component of environmentally sustainable design is considering indoor air quality. Natural materials such as ethically sourced wood, stone, and wool do not off-gas and pollute the air. Take care to choose paints that are non-toxic and low-biocide; finishes that are low VOC; and water-based stains and sealants. And including plenty of foliage in home interiors not only adds a little life and connection to nature, but plants also provide air purification.

Living With Less Energy

Multiglide window
Andersen’s MultiGlide Pass-Through Window | Architecture: SWAN ARCHITECTURE | Builder: STREETER | Photo: Spacecrafting

While many energy-efficient decisions are made during the building construction process, interior designers can contribute to these goals with home interior products. Choose appliances stamped with the Energy Star logo, denoting that they use less energy than their conventional counterparts. Instead of incandescent bulbs opt for CFLs (which use 25-35 percent less energy) or LEDs (which use 75 percent less). Maximize daylighting with energy-efficient glazing. For example, large-format windows and doors, like Andersen’s E-Series and Liftslide glass doors that can reach 16-feet high, let in the utmost natural illumination, limiting the use of artificial light and amplifying outdoor views, which promotes healthy home interiors. Research by Andersen Windows finds that looking out a window at nature can decrease blood pressure and anxiety and depression symptoms. Environmentally sustainable home interiors are synonymous with healthy home interiors, and that’s best for everyone.

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Featured image: Cherry Hills, CO home featuring Andersen’s Multiglide door | Interior Designer: Jane Freking, JF Design | Architect: Woodley Architecture | Builder: Northbrook Consulting